A Florida court has upheld cable TV subscribers' rights by barring
cable giant Comcast from unilaterally changing subscriber agreements by
requiring customers to submit to binding arbitration.
The Florida First District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court
decision, clearing the way for certification of a class action suit
filed against AT&T Broadband, purchased by Comcast in 2001.
The class action suit was filed on behalf of then-AT&T cable TV
customers throughout Florida and Georgia for breach of contract,
unjust enrichment and fraud related to customer service and billing
Prior to the filing of this class action suit, AT&T had adopted the
practice of sending out a fine print notice as an insert in customer
bills that attempted to essentially eliminate subscriber's rights
against the cable company.
In addition to eliminating the right to bring a claim in court, the
provision shortened the statue of limitations, prohibited class
actions, imposed a confidentiality agreement, and prohibited punitive
damages. This was a take-it-or-leave-it policy that gave consumers no
option except to cancel service.
After the class action suit was filed, AT&T petitioned the Fourth
Circuit Court of Duval County, asking Judge L. Haldane Taylor to stop
the suit based on the position that all customers were subject to
binding arbitration and therefore had no right to participate in a
class action suit.
On September 30, 2004, Judge Taylor wrote in his ruling that this
policy by AT&T was "procedurally and substantively unconscionable
... it was presented on a take- it-or-leave-it basis and provisions
unilaterally benefited AT&T."
"The arrogance of these companies reminds me of big tobacco," said
attorney Norwood "Woody" Wilner, whose landmark tobacco case Carter v.
Brown & Williamson resulted in the loss of $14 billion to tobacco
stocks in one single day.
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